Miriam Makeba

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Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 Nov 2008)

Miriam Makeba was born in South Africa, but spent the first 6 months of her life in jail after her mother was arrested and sentenced for selling homemade beer. She first started singing in her primary school choir, and was due to sing for the visit of King George VI, but he drove by her and her choir while they stood waiting for him in the rain. At the age of 18, not only gave birth to her daughter, but was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, she was treated successfully by her mother who was a traditional healer-herbalist.

Her musical career got a big break when she was first featured on a poster, and sang with the South African jazz group called the Manhatten Brothers. In 1956, she recorded and released the song Pata Pata, which made her a household name in South Africa, and over 10 years later, her album Pata Pata peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in 1967. She recorded over 100 songs with the Manhattans, which allowed her to sing with artists like Dorothy Masuka, Abigail Kubeka and Mary Rabatobi. She toured Africa for 18 months after being recruited as a soloist in the African Jazz and Variety Review and became the female lead role in the South African musical named King Kong.

Her career continued to take off and she appeared in a film entitled Come back Africa. She was invited to the screening at the 1959 Venice film festival, and later flew to New York and played the Village Vanguard jazz club. She met and sang with Harry Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden and met the President later that night. her South African passport was cancelled and she testified against apartheid at the United Nations, with Guinea, Belgium and Ghana offering her passports. She won a Grammy in 1966 for her album with Belafone called An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, and other songs such as The Click Song and Malaika became famous worldwide.
This all came to an abrupt end when she married the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael in 1968 as her record contracts and tours were cancelled. She relocated to Guinea where she became their official delegate to the United nations, and in 1975, addressed the United Nations for the second time.

Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can’t do anything about that.

Her career includes performances at the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Ali and Foreman in 1974, and the Graceland Tour. She went on to record with artists such as Dissy Gillespie, Hugh Masekela and Nina Simone, performing at Nelson Mandelas 70th birthday tribute, and even appeared in an episode of The Cosby Show in 1991. She was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the FAO of the United Nations in 1999, and won the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United National Association of Germany in 2001. When she died in 2008, she the world mourned a woman who had stood up against apartheid, one of the first internationally famous African vocalists ever, and recorded music that still has relevance today.

And why is our music called world music? I think people are being polite. What they want to say is that it’s third world music. Like they use to call us under developed countries, not it has changed to developing countries, it’s much more polite – Miriam Makeba

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